Some Iraqi Sunnis in Mosul and other cities may have welcomed the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as liberators in response to the authoritarian and overtly sectarian policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as Harith al-Qarawee and others have reported for Al-Monitor.
Omar al-Jaffal writes this week from Iraq that at least 14 groups, among them factions of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, have joined with ISIS forces in their military campaign in Iraq.
Edward Dark (pseudonym) writes that this tentative embrace of ISIS has a tragic and familiar ring to many in his home city of Aleppo. Dark predicts Iraqi Sunnis who may have initially welcomed ISIS as liberators will regret their liberation by terrorists:
“It seems Iraq’s Sunnis supporting ISIS today are destined to share the same fate as Syria’s rebel-supporting Sunnis, as they struggle against a regime they view as sectarian and oppressive. Their willingness to join forces with the devil to defeat their opponents will soon turn the ecstasy of newfound liberation into the slow horrible realization that they’ve been used and preyed upon by an opportunistic terrorist group hell-bent on resurrecting a medieval theocratic fiefdom ruled by brute force and inhumane repression, complete with beheadings, stonings and crucifixions. What is certain is that as ISIS’s fortunes rise in Iraq, they rise as well in Syria. As far as ISIS is concerned, they are fighting in one large, borderless, Islamic state.”
Aleppo residents have learned that the ISIS legacy has nothing to do with freedom or liberation. ISIS is all about terrorism and ruthless ideology, no more. Aleppans, according to Dark, now worry that ISIS, stoked by its military successes in Iraq, will return with renewed vigor to its Syria campaign.
Aleppo’s tragedy has not abated with the news in Iraq.
Mohammed al-Khatieb provides a riveting first-hand account of the suffering of the victims of a nighttime barrel bombing in Aleppo:
"They began digging through the rubble in search of anyone who may be trapped. Minutes passed before members of the Civil Defense force arrived with the lone excavator they use in all targeted sites. A man in his forties, Abu Mohammed, whose relatives were trapped in the rubble, stood crying and screaming. He approached the devastated area and yelled at the top of his lungs, listening for a response from under the ruins. Everyone then went silent as Abu Mohammed heard a voice. 'Someone is still alive,' he yelled, pointing to a location for the Civil Defense members to dig in, a place he thought was the bedroom. Three hours later, four bodies were recovered. No one survived as the five-story building collapsed atop its occupants' heads."
The suffering of ordinary Syrians motivates Moaz al-Khatib, the former head of the Syrian National Coalition, to continue his campaign for a negotiated political solution to the Syria conflict.
Now an independent member of the opposition, Khatib told Al-Monitor in an exclusive interview in Doha, “Talks are necessary with all parties, and we cannot ignore any of the active actors,” including the Syrian government and Iran.
“I am still calling for direct negotiations with the regime,” he said. “We shouldn’t wait for international conferences that are held every couple of months and that cost the Syrian people time and bloodshed. Negotiation is a principle rather than a tactical issue.”
Khatib’s "principle" of negotiation is not shared by all Syrian opposition figures.
The head of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood political bureau, Hassan Hachimi, also in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, said Iran was "untrustworthy" and that talks with Tehran should be avoided
With regard to the US counterterrorism strategy in the region, Geoffrey Aronson recommends that with the ISIS incursion in Iraq, the Barack Obama administration should, finally, open a channel for counterterrorism cooperation with the Syrian government to combat the rise of ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. Aronson concludes:
"[Bashar al-] Assad, for his part, has certainly not made such a decision any easier by his conduct of the war. We are not talking here about a handshake or an embrace. The United States can work through intermediaries, like Russia, to keep a healthy distance and allow Washington to say, 'We are not dealing with the Syrian government,' if so inclined. This all comes, however, with the recognition that US policy finally acknowledges that Damascus can play a role in beating back developments that pose the most potent threat to US interests in the Middle East in recent memory."
ISIS in Lebanon?
A suicide bombing at a military checkpoint outside Beirut on June 20 targeting Abbas Ibrahim, the head Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, who escaped unharmed, killed at least two others and injured 20.
The terrorist attack is a stark sign of the danger facing Lebanon from the spread of ISIS in the region.
Four days before the bombing, Jean Aziz wrote of the increasing threats of terrorism in Lebanon because of the ISIS advances in Iraq. After noting several supposedly "isolated" security incidents since June 10, when ISIS took Mosul, Aziz writes:
"Lebanon is a target of the Sunni fundamentalist ISIS for ideological and doctrinal reasons. It should be noted that the 'Sham' part of the organization’s name does not refer to the current, official Syria, but to the Arab Mashreq that also includes Lebanon. Added to this is ISIS’s sectarian struggle with Shiite Hezbollah. This was embodied in a series of bombings and suicide attacks specifically targeting Lebanese Shiite areas."
IPI Free Media Pioneer Award ceremony
Held in Capetown, South Africa, on April 12-15, the International Press Institute's World Congress drew nearly 300 people.
On April 14, the IPI honored Al-Monitor with the Free Media Pioneer Award and named Iranian journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin the 2014 World Press Freedom Hero.
You can watch a video of the awards ceremony, including the acceptance speeches by Jamal Daniel, Al-Monitor founder, chairman and CEO, and Michelle Upton, Al-Monitor vice president and managing editor.